The Stifel Fine Arts Center has been a pillar of the Wheeling arts community since it became the center of Oglebay Institute’s visual arts programs in 1978. Its focus on making visual arts accessible to all residents of Wheeling, independent of their income or artistic skill level, has been the guiding vision that has drawn multiple generations through its doors to express themselves creatively while exploring new media. That ongoing mission gained a valuable resource when Oglebay Institute recently hired Rachel Shipley as its newest art educator.
Shipley said working at Oglebay Institute hardly feels like work at all, at least as she defined it before coming to Stifel.
“I’ve worked a lot of places with a lot of great people, but working for Oglebay Institute here at the Stifel [Fine Arts] Center feels different. I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but coming to work feels more like family than it does actual work. There’s something in the energy and the relationships between all of us – in the whole organization. It’s nice to be doing something that you love and feeling like you make a difference every day.”
Shipley brings a refreshing and useful cocktail of being both an active artist and a professional educator. Any conversation with her can easily swing between her own visionary projects, mostly revolving around her passion for screen printing, and the big ideas for art projects that she wants to bring to Oglebay Institute patrons.
“I’m presently working on summer camps, and we’re doing a lot of really fun themes this year. We’re also rolling out some learning kits for Black History Month that will assist educators in teaching an entire unit on Jacob Lawrence, a 20th century African American painter known for a style called dynamic cubism that was heavily influenced by the shapes and colors of his life in Harlem. I’m really excited about that.”
Shipley says it’s nice to come into a situation that allows her the freedom to try new things while having a pre-existing foundation of programming as diverse and accomplished as OI provides. “We have a group of people that refinishes old furniture. We have a group of really talented woodcarvers. We have pottery and stained glass studios. Part of my job is to find ways to accentuate what has already been going on.”
Shipley’s impressive resume includes a bachelor’s degree in art education from West Liberty University where she is also working on her graduate degree, a teaching assistantship at WLU, a stint at the Andy Warhol Museum as an art educator and a respectable portfolio of her own art spanning multiple media.
It is in that portfolio that Shipley truly provides value. While many artists work primarily in one medium and stretch to teach others, Shipley truly shares a passion that shines through as it relates to the act of creation itself. She beams equally as she shows me her Starbook project she is putting together as she does her growing Pinterest collection of ideas for the Harry Potter Camp and on to the room that is her true love, screen printing.
“There is just so much going on here all the time. It’s difficult to keep up with, honestly. We have after-school-programs centered on just about any type of art project you can imagine – clay, printmaking, stop motion animation. We have our eight-week classes, various guilds and groups that meet here regularly, girls’ night workshops, the exhibitions – just so much.”
But even with everything that she inherited, Shipley has also instituted some very successful programs herself.
She said the program getting the most participation right now is the Girls’ Night workshop series, which takes place once or twice a month. “I honestly feel like we have something for everyone. One thing that is important to me is that crafters and hobbyists feel as at home here as painters and sculptors. We’ve hosted classes from media ranging from wood burning and screen printing to modge podge and wreath making. The arts are for everyone, and our challenge is to find a programming schedule that has an outlet for everyone that wants to participate.”
She said the workshops are successful because they provide a relaxed, supportive learning environment, where people have fun and learn new skills at the same time. “We drink wine and laugh, and at the end of it, you are able to take away something tangible that you can be proud of.”
Shipley said she looks forward to branching out to other artistic media she hasn’t thought of but maybe participants would like to see.
“I love doing new things . I want to get to the place where people are calling up with suggestions because then I know that we’re providing arts programming that people really want to learn, and I think that’s what Oglebay Institute has always been about, serving as a gathering place for all those who want to learn, appreciate and engage in creative pursuits. The Stifel (Fine Arts) Center is more than just a big mansion with great exhibits. It’s also a place where anyone, not just a privileged few, from the community can come and produce art at whatever level they desire. This is a place where we believe in art for all people. Everyone can come and find something that interests them and get better at doing it while having a really great time.”